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Tue, 12 Mar 2013
Oakville Mayor Rob Burton recently spoke with Metro Morning’s Matt Galloway about transit in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). The following is a transcript produced by our office with readability in mind. You can listen to the interview in its entirety on the CBC Metro Morning website:
Matt Galloway: What will the GTA’s transit system look like a generation from now, and perhaps more importantly who is going to pay for it? Those concerns are being raised by the Mayor of Oakville, Rob Burton, in advance of a transit roundtable tonight. In particular, Mayor Burton says he is alarmed by Toronto’s apparent lack of support for transit. Why do you believe Torontonians are “singularly ungrateful” when it comes to our Region’s transit?
Mayor Burton: That’s not what I said. What I said was that ever since 1998, the suburbs have been subsidizing Toronto with hundreds of millions of dollars of our property tax money, and our property taxes are higher than Toronto’s. Basically, Toronto enjoys lower taxes as a result of a subsidy from the suburbs. When you tell them about (the subsidy), they are unaware of it and singularly ungrateful for it. That doesn’t inspire anybody’s desire to help Toronto.
Also, over the last month we’ve had two occasions where your Mayor and your Budget Chair have declared, in one case I think he said adamantly, that Toronto was against, and would fight, any taxes or tolls for new transit.
For a good time now, John Tory, Metrolinx, CivicAction and the Toronto Board of Trade have been calling suburban mayors, well they’ve been calling all mayors, to meetings to talk about: will you mayors come out and support taxes for transit? Mostly Toronto doesn’t show up.
Matt Galloway: You’ve been in a meeting that was organized by CivicAction featuring some of the leaders of the Region. What did our Mayor say to you about paying for transit?
Mayor Burton: We were in an off-the-record meeting so I’m not going to quote what he said. His view was that there is no money coming from anywhere, and none of this is going to happen.
Your pre-interviewer asked me what I was going to do after bringing out these questions. I look at this poll that the Board of Trade put out saying 90% of the people had never heard of the Big Move. I think one of the things I’m going to do is start asking the media: what are you doing to drive awareness of this issue?
Matt Galloway: We’ve been convening talks. We’ve done a series on this - Joyless Commute- talking about the fact that people aren’t getting around, that we need better transit. Is it fair to say that Torontonians are ungrateful for the support in past and when it comes to other taxes of those in the 905 and that we who live here wouldn’t be interested in paying for it? Or is this really about the Mayor himself?
Mayor Burton: I have the impression from a poll I saw earlier this week that 50% of Torontonians are as adamantly opposed to taxes and tolls as your mayor says he is. Some may be interested and some may be disinterested. I’m more concerned about the idea that 90% of us don’t really have any idea about this.
Matt Galloway: If we don’t have any idea about it, and if Toronto or Toronto’s Mayor isn’t interested in tolls or taxes to pay for transit, what is your biggest concern?
Mayor Burton: There won’t be anything built if nobody is going to pay for it. If taxes are out and tolls are out, that only leaves debt. Most governments nowadays are a little bit debt-shy because of the levels of debt we already have.
Matt Galloway: Why do you think this is happening? Because it seems obvious to most people if you want to build something then you need to figure out how to pay for it. We’ve been going around in circles for years talking about the time for that adult conversation on how to pay for it. It seems as though the momentum is moving now. So why do you believe there is this intransigence?
Mayor Burton: I think partly there’s been a failure to come across on the part of Metrolinx on the cost, or more specifically on how to pay for it. I went to one of their recent series of roundtables and before it began I said to the Metrolinx leaders: you need to step up there and say this is what we need. You’ve got to be explicit about it. I don’t think anybody is going to support anything that isn’t dedicated, transparent and fair. You have to start that way. At the tables around the room at the consultation that they conducted out here nobody talked about the hard numbers of the cost. It was more of a “we ought to have transit – yay.”
Matt Galloway: What would it take then for the numbers to be out, but also for a politician here in Toronto to stick by them and say this: listen this is what it’s going to cost you and this is why you need to pay.
Mayor Burton: It’s going to take a prairie fire of grass roots enthusiasm. When I go to other cities who are aware of how green Oakville is and of our very aggressive programs to grow our tree canopy and fight the Emerald Ash Borer, they ask me “make our city do that”. I always tell them I can’t – it comes from the grass roots up. I’m more like the instrument of my residents. I don’t tell my residents what to do, they tell me what to do.
So there’s a public conversation that has to happen everywhere, and at every level, and it has to have information fed to it. My one criticism of Metrolinx is that I don’t think they’ve provided the ingredients of an adult conversation. I think they are afraid to get into the dollars and cents of it. There is a provincial law that requires them to come up with their proposal for funding it by June 1st. So, absent the conversation, we’ll see what they’ve been planning all along. I’m frustrated by the idea that half of the GTA thinks it’s not going to pay for it even though most of the projects are in their area.
Matt Galloway: I can hear that frustration. Mayor Burton, good to speak with you on this.